INTRODUCTION Health is an integral part of existence as a human being. Health is related to every aspect of people’s daily lives. If people do not have basic health, they are not able to perform the tasks they would like to. Without health, people have nothing. Unfortunately it is often not until health is lost that people realize how important it is to the enjoyment of life. Health is determined by many uncontrollable factors such as genetic diseases and injury and others we can control, such as diet and exercise habits. It is often the controllable habits that severely impair or enhance people’s overall health. Health affects the capabilities of people’s bodies and minds and it is believed that the health of the body is a great indicator of the cognitive ability of the mind. A healthy body is necessary for an individual to perform physical activities as well as mentally stimulating ones. The cognitive abilities of the mind are directly related to the body’s physical abilities and vice versa. When an individual is not healthy, he or she cannot perform cognitive tasks as well (e.g., Blom-Hoffman & DuPaul, 2003). Academic work at the college level involves rigorous cognitive ability as well as the physical stamina that is needed to work long hours. College grade point average measures a student’s ability to perform academic tasks oriented around cognitive ability. When a student is not in a healthy physical condition, he or she is not able to complete the course requirements, and grades suffer. One behavior that is related to health, and consequently academic performance, is smoking. Smoking has been found to have extremely detrimental effects on health (American Heart Association, 2001). The American Heart Association (2001) has published its findings on the effects of smoking in a reader friendly packet aimed at discouraging smoking. In the United States there are over 400,000 deaths annually caused by smoking. Smoking affects the entire body by polluting vital organs such as the lungs and heart. Nicotine found in cigarette smoke causes the heart rate and blood pressure to increase (American Heart Association, 2001). Simultaneously, the carbon monoxide found in cigarette smoke eats up the oxygen in the blood stream reducing the availability of oxygen to the heart, which is pumping at an increased rate due to the nicotine. In addition, smoke increases a person’s likelihood of forming blood clots. Blood Clots, like carbon monoxide, restrict the amount of oxygenated blood flowing to the heart. It is due to these causes that people are two times as likely to have a heart attack when they smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day than people who do not smoke (American Heart Association, 2001). It is likely that a lack of oxygen in the blood supply would compromise brain function and over time may reduce a person’s cognitive ability. Another element of smoking that may challenge mental ability is nicotine addiction. Addiction occurs when the body forms a dependence on a substance. Fergusson, Goodwin, and Horwood (2003) found that nicotine addiction increases the probability of depression among people studied for a period of 21 years. Symptoms of withdrawal, including increased heart rate and respiration, perspiration, and irritability, occur when a person does not receive the necessary amount of the addictive substance (Prokhorov et al., 2001). These symptoms can strain the body and mind and distract from everyday activities. Prokhorov et al. (2001) found that nicotine withdrawal symptoms included craving cigarettes, trouble sleeping, irritability, anger, restlessness, trouble concentrating, increased hunger, and weight gain. The study also found feelings of sadness and depression in high school students with a history of nicotine dependence (Prokhorov et al, 2001). Such symptoms may distract students from their academic work. Academic struggles due to nicotine addiction in high school students will most likely carry over into college years.From the above studies, it can be concluded that cigarette smoking negatively affects the body and mind. Cigarette addiction causes intense cravings that can distract from daily activities. For students this can mean distraction from studies or the inability to sit through long classes without taking a cigarette break. Allowing a smoking addiction to have seniority over classes and homework can lead to a decrease in the productivity of a student. This decrease of productivity will ultimately lead to a decrease in a student’s GPA. Smoking, however, is not the only addictive substance that can affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks, such as schoolwork. Alcohol is a depressant commonly used in social contexts to induce relaxation (Valenzuela, 1997). Alcohol naturally impairs the body’s motor skills by blocking the brains neurotransmitters and the brains channel for communication with the body (Valenzuela, 1997). It is due to this interaction between brain neurotransmitters and alcohol that the body’s mental and physical abilities are impaired. The short-term use of alcohol decreases the attention span of the user allowing him or her to be easily distracted. Studies have shown that alcohol induces sedation and even unconsciousness (Valenzuela, 1997). Consciousness and memory are controlled by the same part of the brain that alcohol acts upon to create its effects. It is believed that brain functions necessary for memory formation, are inhibited by alcohol consumption (Valenzuela, 1997) Alcohol, like cigarette smoking produces withdrawal symptoms in frequent users. Symptoms found in Metten and Crabbe’s study included seizures, tremors, hallucinations, insomnia, agitation, and confusion as cited in (Valenzuela, 1997). It can be concluded that long periods of alcohol use will have negative effects on the body, especially the brain and kidneys. Such detrimental effects on the brain and kidneys can only hinder a person’s ability to perform activities especially academic work that requires much concentration and cognitive ability.In addition to substance abuse, other factors contribute to the overall health of an individual and their ability to perform academically. Sleep is necessary for the body to function as it allows time for the body and brain to rest and rejuvenate. Pilcher and Walters (1997) supported the hypothesis that sleep depravation negatively affects performance on the Watson Critical Thinking Appraisal, which measures cognitive ability. In their study, Pilcher and Walters (1997) found that participants performed much worse on “complex cognitive tasks” when deprived of sleep for 24 hours than participants who were allowed adequate sleep. Kelly, Kelly and Clanton (2001) found GPA to be related to the length of sleep undergraduate students receive on average each night in their study of 148 participants. The results showed that those students who were categorized as long sleepers or those who slept nine or more hours each night reported higher GPA’s. Average sleepers were categorized as those individuals who slept 7-8 hours and long sleepers were those who slept more than 9 hours out of every 24. It was believed that the GPAs of those short sleepers were lower than those of the long sleepers because short sleepers had less ability to focus on academics do to their lack of sleep (Kelly et al., 2001). Significant results found by Trockel, Barnes, and Egget (2000) indicated that grade point average among first year college students was related to the sleep habits of those individuals. In addition to sleep, exercise is beneficial to the body. Woo and Sharpe (2003) found exercise to increase the verbal and pictorial recall among young people when the information was categorized. The study indicates a positive relationship between exercise and cognition. Rebok and Plude (2001) found a relationship between physical activity, exercise, and memory function. Exercise was found to be a stronger predictor of memory function than other types of physical activity (Rebok & Plude, 2001). The above studies support the belief that the health of the body is directly related to the cognitive abilities of the mind. While exercise is very important to health, diet also plays a large role. Diet, like exercise, affects the body’s ability to perform. Green & Rogers (1998) found that participants’ scores on Central Executive and Phonological Loop tasks, which measures cognitive processing efficiency, were lower for dieters than they were for those participants not restricting their caloric intake. In addition, on multiple tasks measuring cognitive ability, Morris and Sarll (2001) found that low blood sugar levels, which occur when the body does not receive adequate sustenance, decrease cognitive ability. Blom-Hoffman and DuPaul (2003) discuss the importance of nutrition among children, concluding that dietary practices are directly related to learning capacity. Blom-Hoffman & DuPaul (2003) determined that negative dietary habits established in childhood are carried into adulthood where they continue to plague the individual. As the ability to learn as children is related to diet, it can only be assumed that the same rules apply as young college students continue their education.The present study combines smoking, alcohol consumption, sleep habits, diet and exercise, to form an overall health assessment. This lifestyle assessment of health is then compared to the self reported GPAs of college students. The present study simultaneously measures multiple aspects of health, allowing each of these aspects to be compared to GPA individually and as a group. It can then be determined which health factor has the strongest relationship to GPA, or if it is the combined health factors that best predict GPA. It is hypothesized that there will be a positive relationship between the health and grade point average of college students.
METHODSParticipants The participants that were used in the study were undergraduate students of Loyola University New Orleans. These students were recruited on campus to participate in the study through a sign-up sheet that was posted on the research board within the psychology department as well as through researchers asking members of clubs and teams to participate in the study. The participants were both male and female, between the ages of 18 and 22. MaterialsA survey comprised of 30 questions was used to determine the overall health of the participants. The survey used in the current study was adapted from the following surveys: Student Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire (Engs, 1992), Alcohol and Drug Questionnaire (Engs, 2000), The Student Alcohol Questionnaire (Engs, 2002), Diet and Lifestyle Questionnaire (Harris), Health Sciences and Athletes (2004), Lifestyle and Nutrition Questionnaire, and Sleep Self-Evaluation Form. The questions asked the participants specific questions pertaining to their habits of smoking, drinking, sleep, diet, and exercise. The questions asked the participants to estimate the average amount of exercise they engage in each week, how often they smoke, how much sleep they get on average, how often and how much alcohol they consume each week, as well as questions pertaining to their diet, such as how often to they eat fast food. The students’ academic performance was measured in the survey as well by asking the participants to report their current grade point average. Design and Procedure This study was a correlational design. When participants arrived in the lab, they were asked to look over the informed consent form and given brief instructions that explained that they were to fill out the survey without putting any personal identification on it and then place it in a brown envelope when they were finished. The participants then were allowed to sit wherever in the room they felt most comfortable and allowed as much time as they needed to complete the survey. Once the participant had placed the survey in the envelope they were debriefed and encouraged to ask questions about the study.
RESULTS The means, standard deviation, and ranges for all variables are found in Table 1. Within the study, a total of 52 participants were tested including 16 males and 36 females. 19 of the participants were African American, 22 were Caucasian, 3 were Asian, 5 were Hispanic, and 3 listed themselves as Other nationalities. In addition, the participants included 24 freshmen, 7 sophomores, 13 juniors, and 8 seniors. It was hypothesized that health would be related to GPA with a positive correlation between healthy diet, exercise, and sleep habits.A correlation test discovered only two health variables related to GPA. Higher GPA was associated with less consumption of fast food (r (50) = -.305, p<. 05). Higher GPA was also associated with the amount of meals an individual skipped per day: the fewer meals skipped the greater the GPA (r (44) = -.330, p<. 05). There were no other significant findings that related health to GPA. However, several significant findings related different health habits to each other.Findings not related to the original hypothesis include a positive correlation between the number of cigarettes smoked and amount of alcohol consumed (r (50) = .508, p<. 001). A positive correlation between the number of cigarettes smoked and the number of hangovers experienced was also found (r (50) = .529, p<. 001). A positive correlation between the number of cigarettes smoked and the number of times a student has attended class drunk was found(r (50) = .495, p< .001). In addition, the number of hangovers experienced was positively correlated with the amount of alcohol consumed (r (50) = .551, p<. 001). These combined findings suggest that negative behaviors and consequences, such as hangovers, are related to each other and tend to come in groups of two or more negative health behaviors.
DISCUSSION The present data provided some small support for the hypothesis, as it was determined that the dietary aspect of a healthy lifestyle was related to GPA. Diet was found to have the only significant relationship with GPA: fast food and GPA were negatively correlated. In addition, it was found that skipping meals related negatively to GPA. No other aspects of health were found to be related to GPA. However, this information was important because no relationship between diet and GPA has previously been studied. While the relationship between GPA and diet does not have the direct support of previous studies, Green and Rogers (1998) found a significant relationship between dieters and cognitive test scores. Dieters’ scores were lower than non-dieters’ on Central Executive and Phonological Loop tasks, which measure cognitive processing efficiency. The findings of the present study are similar to the findings of Green & Rogers as people who skipped meals were found to have lower GPAs than those who did not skip meals, just as those dieting performed worse on cognitive ability tests than those participants not dieting. The findings of the current study suggest that diet was significantly related to GPA. This information may reflect other variables that play a role in students’ GPAs. It is important that students know that their dietary behaviors are related to their success in school as calculated through GPA. If the results found in the present study are supported in subsequent studies, students and schools may become increasingly concerned with the dietary behaviors. As athletes must follow strict diets, it may become common for students participating in rigorous academic activities to follow similarly strict diets. This information may also benefit school administrators and counselors who in the future may require students to eat healthier food. Perhaps if schools implemented a healthy school lunch program, students’ academic achievement would improve. It would be valuable to conduct an experimental design in which students with similar GPA and health habits would to go on different diets: one group would eat strictly organic health food, while the other group would eat at fast food restaurants. It would be interesting to see if students with strict, healthy diets reported higher GPAs than those with normal or unhealthy diets. Although our data only supported significant results between diet and GPA, we believe that future research may connect other aspects of health to GPA.Sleep, for example, was found to have a strong relationship to GPA in past research, although current research did not show this result. Our data ran contrary to the data of Pilcher and Walters (1997), who found sleep deprivation to negatively affect performance on the Watson Critical Thinking Appraisal, and to the findings of Kelly, Kelly, and Clanton (2001), who found length of sleep among undergraduate students to be related to GPA. Similar results were also found by Trockel, Barnes, and Egget (2000), who found GPA to be related to the sleep habits of those individuals. Discrepancies between the current findings and previous findings may be due to the low number of participants tested in the present study, as well as the uneven ratio of male to female participants. The survey used in the current study was developed from several established studies, and may not have adequately measured the variables in question. Because the survey measured so many different aspects of health, these aspects were not measured in depth, and only a few questions were asked about each health behavior. Because surveys are a form of self-report, it is possible that participants misreported their GPAs or health behaviors. In addition, range restriction may have occurred on the GPA and health variables. Students who may have earned very low GPAs due to extremely risky health behaviors were not within the sample because the participants were recruited from students whose GPAs were currently high enough to continue attending school at the university level. In addition, students that are severely unhealthy may be too ill to attend school.It has also been considered that perhaps the hypothesis was incorrect. There may be a number of other factors that contribute to GPA more so than health. It is also possible that health habits vary so greatly between individuals, that what may be unhealthy for one individual may be perfectly healthy for another. For example while 6 hours of sleep may be sufficient for one person, another person having only 6 hours of sleep may feel exhausted and unable to perform academic tasks. It is the same case with alcohol, where gender differences between men and women may have impacted the results of the study, as men are able to drink more alcohol in comparison to women before feeling the effects of the alcohol. It would be valuable to find a “healthy zone” in which an individual could determine whether or not his or her health habits would have a negative, neutral, or positive impact on his or her GPA. A “healthy zone” would be determined by studying the range of health behaviors among students with high and low GPAs and determining where their health habits fall on a scale in relation to each other. It would also be interesting for a future study to test students who have recently been expelled from school due to low GPAs, as doing so would greatly increase the range of GPA and perhaps health as well. It is suggested that future studies use a more in depth survey to get more information on each of the health behaviors. The study would be further improved if more subjects were tested with an equal amount of men and women, because comparisons between the groups would then be easily made. It may be beneficial to conduct in depth studies relating each of the variables to GPA among different age groups such as grade school, high school, or graduate school students. Such information may determine if health is more important to academic ability at a certain point in human development. Developing an experimental study to determine causal relationships would be ideal.
REFERENCES American Heart Association. (2001). The effects of smoking: our guide on how tobacco use affects the cardiovascular system [Brochure].Blom-Hoffman, J., & DuPaul, G. J. (2003). School-based health promotion: the effects of a nutrition education program. School Psychology Review, 32, 263 –372.Engs, R.C. (1992). Student Health and Lifestyle Questionnaire. Indiana University. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/quest/shq.html Engs, R.C. (2000). Alcohol and Drug Questionnaire. Indiana University. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/quest/uk.htmlEngs, R.C. (2002). The Student Alcohol Questionnaire (SAQ). Indiana University. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/quet/saq.html Fergusson, D. M., Goddwin, R. D., & Horwood, L. J. (2003). Major depression and cigarette smoking: results of a 21-year longitudinal study. Psychological Medicine, 33, 1357-1367.Green, M. W., & Rogers, P. J. (1998). Impairments in working memory associated with spontaneous dieting behavior. Psychological Medicine, 28, 1063-1070.Harris, W. Diet and Lifestyle Questionnaire. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.vegsource.com/harris/diet.htmHealth Sciences and Athletes. (2004). Nutrition Assessment. El Camino College. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.youth.net/ecc/nutrition.htmlKelly, W. E., Kelly, K. E., & Clanton, R. C. (2001). The relationship between sleep length and grade-point average among college students. College Student Journal, 35, 84-87.Morris, N., & Sarll, P. (2001). Drinking glucose improves listening span in students who miss breakfast. Educational Research, 43, 201-207.One Person Health. Lifestyle and Nutrition Questionnaire. Retrieved February 3, 2004, from http://www.onepersonhealth.com/JSPs/Questionnaire.jspPilcher, J. J., & Walters, A. S. (1997). How sleep deprivation affects psychological variables related to college students’ cognitive performance. Journal of American College Health, 46, 121-127.Prokhorov, V. A., Hudmon, S. K., de Moor, C. A., Kelder, S. H., Conroy, J. L., & Ordway, N. (2001). Nicotine dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and adolescents’ readiness to quit smoking. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 3, 151-155.Rebok, G. W., & Plude, D. G. (2001). Relation of physical activity to memory functioning in older adults: the memory workout program. Educational Gerontology, 27, 241-260.The National Parkinson Foundation, Inc. Sleep Self-Evaluation Form. Retrieved February 4, 2004, from http://www.parkinson.org/qsleep.htmTrockel, M. T., Barnes, M. D., & Egget, D.L. (2000). Health-related variables and academic performance among first-year college students: implications for sleep and other behaviors. Journal of American College Health, 49, 125-132.Valenzuela, C. F. (1997). Alcohol and neurotransmitter interactions. Alcohol Health & Research World, 21, 144-149. Woo, E., & Sharps, M. J. (2003). Cognitive aging and physical exercise. Educational Gerontology, 29, 327-337.
APPENDIX Survey of Health Behaviors
Fill in the blanks and check the following that apply.
Gender: Male_____ Female_____
Race: White_____ Black_____ Hispanic_____ Asian_____ Native American_____ Other_____
Classification: Freshman_____ Sophomore_____ Junior_____ Senior_____
Program of Study/Major: ___________________________________
Grade Point Average: ________________
Circle the correct answer.
On average, how many hours of sleep do you get each night? ________hours per night
On average, how many days per week do you wake up and feel groggy? ________days per week
On average, how many times do you nap each day? ________times per day
On average, what time do you go to bed each night? ________a.m. or p.m. (circle one)
On average, what time do you wake up each morning? ________a.m. or p.m. (circle one)
How often do you have a full night’s uninterrupted sleep and wake up feeling refreshed? ________nights per week
What is your situation regarding smoking?a. I currently smokeb. I am a social smokerc. I have smoked in the past, but do not at presentd. I have never smoked
During the past month, how many days have you used tobacco? ________days per week
On those days when you smoke, how many cigarettes would you normally smoke? ________cigarettes
Which best describes your daytime activity?a. Low physical activityb. Moderate physical activityc. High physical activity
How often do you exercise? ________times per week
If less than once a week: ________times per month
What type of exercise do you engage in? (Check all that apply)Walking_____Swimming_____Stair climbing_____Stationary or real bike_____Jogging_____Weight training_____Running_____
When you exercise, on the average how many minutes do you engage in the exercise activity? ________minutes
During the past month, how many times have you consumed an alcoholic beverage? ________times per week If less than once a week: ________times per month
How many times during the past year have you come to class after having several drinks? ________times in the past year
How many times during the past year have you missed a class because of a hangover? ________times in the past year
How many times during the past year have you received a lower grade because of drinking too much? ________times in the past year
How many glasses of water do you drink in a day? ________glasses per day
Which most closely describes the amount of food you eat at one time?a. Select a reasonable portion, stop eating when fullb. Eat what is served and clean the platec. Eat additional helpings to satisfy tastesd. Eat until full an then eat desserts
How often do you eat convenience/fast food? ________times per week
How often do you skip meals? (Not eat three meals per day) ________times per day
How often do you snack on candy, cookies, ice cream or other foods of this type? ________times per day
Which pattern of eating typifies your style?a. Regular meals at frequent intervalsb. Occasionally skipping a mealc. Skipping breakfast or lunchd. Skipping meals during the day and eating only the evening meal
TABLE 1. DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS, (N = 50)Survey Question Mean-Std. Deviation-Range
Gender .69 .47 0-1Age 19.5 1.11 18-22GPA 3.4055 .4511 2.10-4.00Hours of sleep per night 6.2 1.26 4-9Groggy when wake up, 4.058 1.965 0-7times per week Number of naps per week .73 1.16 0-6Nights of full sleep per week 2.48 1.73 0-7Smoking scale 3.4 .88 1-4Number of Cigarettes per day .58 1.36 0-5Amount of daily activity 1.96 .53 1-3Amount of exercise per month 11.12 7.06 0-28Alcohol use – drinks per month 5.83 6.03 0-24Times in class drunk during .94 5.02 0-35past year# missed classes due to hangovers .81 2.44 0-15# times alcohol has affected – .25 1.41 0-10grades in past year Cups of water per day 3.71 3.05 0-16Amount of food consumed scale 1.94 1.04 1-4Fast food consumption per week 1.88 1.41 1-6